Friday, January 4, 2013

The End of an Era?

Mahar's is all but done.

That might not be significant to those of you in Glascow or Toronto, but to Albany's—actually New York state's—beer scene it's a pretty big deal.

Photo courtesy of
Mahar's was ahead of the curve. It was a beer bar when beer bars were unfashionable—stalwart in it's offering of great, classic British beer and the best of American craft beer. Their coolers spilled with hundred's of bottles of brew from across the world and their beer engines pumped real ale from breweries nearly unheard of in the U.S. It was warm and cozy, the perfect place to lean on the bar and have a laugh and a pint with a friend. Granted, it was place of rules—no raucous or rude behavior, allowed—and you needed to know how to order your beer, or bare the brunt of a good natured admonishment. The older denizens of the pub will remember having to switch on your table's wall sconce to order a big bowl of banger and mash, and the next round of London Pride. Mahar's was truly the opposite of every other bar in Albany in the late 1990s and early 2000s. People flocked to Mahar's for the people, the atmosphere, and most of all the beer.

Mahar's was my local.

And then it wasn't.

Part of it was, with a new job, came a new direction by which I traveled home. One that didn't pass by the little blue building at the head Madison Avenue. Some of it was also that I was starting a family, and as will happen, I just didn't have the time to pop down to pub, like I once had. Mostly though, I didn't want to go there anymore.

You may have noticed that I wrote Mahar's was a number of times, and that's the crux of the problem. Mahar's was like that, but hasn't been like that for quite a while. As is the granny with alzheimers, it is a shell of it's former self. The little pub, that was at one time a little rough around the edges became shabby—and now just dumpy. The amazing selection of worldly beer has become, less and less worldly. The food—that wonderful pubby food—is simply gone. While all that stings, it's the service that's really troubled. The staff had always been a bit curmudgeonly at Mahar's—that was part of its charm—but the good-natured admonishments slowly went from jokey, to annoyance, to gruff, and finally to downright mean. I don't need to be made to feel like it's privilege to frequent an establishment.

The result of this decline—that's been happening for the last seven or eight years—was pretty inevitable. Bad business decisions, over extension, shitty service, rambling accusatory emails, a caustic relationship with both the city and most of the distributors in upstate New York, and competition—major competition—finally caught with Mahar's. Too many bridges were burned and the building was bought out—from right below them. Unfortunately, the end of this Albany institution couldn't have been better predicted by Nostradamus, himself. As proverbial as it is—Mahar's reaped what it sowed. Am I sad to see to end like this? Sure—but I'm not surprised. Although, it's not quite dead yet. There is still a satellite operation across the river in Castleton-on-Hudson (which I quite like) and there has been speak of new location in Albany—but, that remains to be seen.

All that being said, I will raise my glass to what Mahar's was—and quite honestly, what shall never be again.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah it's sad Mahar's is closing, but not entirely surprising. If you follow the local foodie and drinkie blogs in the 518 you'll see a lot of people screaming "Schadenfreude" and a lot of other people quietly murmuring "R.I.P.".

    I'm somewhere in between for all the reasons you listed. Yeah it WAS great and CAN BE family-centric and cosey and even hospitable, but on the other hand up until 2010-11 there really wasn't any significant competition.

    I never thought it was possible to have a better selection than Mahar's until I saw The Ruck starting to carry more exciting American craft beers, and then the Bier Abbey opened and just blew Mahars' selection out of hte water (yeah they have/had upwards of 30 taps but 20 of them have been downright BORING the last few years).

    If they do re-open in Albany I hope they'll take the opportunity to make a fresh start and re-make their image entirely. I'd be nice if Bill weren't there anymore, but seeing as he's co-owner, that ain't gonna happen unless they buy him out.

    So who knows what the future holds for them. As long as there's a Castleton Mahar's I'll be happy because there's no shortage of good beer place in the 518 anymore.